Last Winter

A poem by TS Eliot Prize-winner Sinéad Morrissey.

was not like last winter, we said, when winter
had ground its iron teeth in earnest: Belfast
colder than Moscow and a total lunar eclipse
hanging its Chinese lantern over the solstice.
Last winter we wore jackets into November
and lost our gloves, geraniums persisted,
our new pot-bellied stove sat unlit night
after night and inside our lungs and throats,
embedded in our cells, viruses churned out
relaxed, unkillable replicas of themselves
in the friendlier temperatures. Our son
went under. We’d lie awake, not touching,
and listen to him cough. He couldn’t walk
for weakness in the morning. Thoracic,
the passages and hallways in our house
got stopped with what we would not say –
how, on our wedding day, we’d all-at-once
felt shy to be alone together, back
from the cacophony in my tiny, quiet flat
and surrounded by flowers.
 
***
 

Sinéad Morrissey was born in 1972 and grew up in Belfast. She has published four books of poetry, the most recent of which, Parallax, published by Carcanet Press, has just been awarded the TS Eliot Prize.

The collection is preoccupied with the ways we approach objects, people and places in photography and poetry, and how our perspective is manipulated without our knowing it. “The first poem I wrote was inspired by Alexander Robert Hogg’s photography of Belfast slum life, and how the photographs falsify what they show,” she told the NS this week.

This multiple or “parallax” view is specifically Northern Irish. “Back home things tend to be very bipartisan. There’s two dominant camps and their view of things is different from each other.” Morrissey, who was raised by an Irish Catholic father and English Anglican mother, says she has always felt herself to exist “outside that binary”. “It was very helpful to me in developing a flexibility of approach.”

 

This article first appeared in the 15 January 2014 issue of the New Statesman, 1914 to 2014

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“The Hole-Up”: a poem by Matthew Sweeney

“You could taste the raw / seagull you’d killed and plucked, / the mussels you’d dug from sand, / the jellyfish that wobbled in your / hands as you slobbered it.”

Lying on your mouth and nose
on the hot sand, you recall
a trip in a boat to the island –
the fat rats that skittered about
after god-knows-what dinner,
the chubby seals staring up,
the sudden realisation that a man
on the run had wintered there
while the soldiers scoured
the entire shoreline to no avail –
you knew now you had been him
out there. You could taste the raw
seagull you’d killed and plucked,
the mussels you’d dug from sand,
the jellyfish that wobbled in your
hands as you slobbered it.
You saw again that first flame
those rubbed stones woke in
the driftwood pile, and that rat
you grilled on a spar and found
delicious. Yes, you’d been that man,
and you had to admit now you
missed that time, that life,
though you were very glad you
had no memory of how it ended.


Matthew Sweeney’s Black Moon was shortlisted for the 2007 T S Eliot Prize. His latest collection is Inquisition Lane (Bloodaxe).

This article first appeared in the 21 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The English Revolt